Last month, my wife Lara and I completed a yearlong contemporary grand tour of the globe that we chronicled on our travel blog Grantourismo. Something of a travel experiment, our aim was to explore more enriching ways of travelling. Throughout the year we learned to live like locals and engaged with locals by staying in holiday rentals instead of hotels; we travelled more sustainably by slowing down, shopping at local businesses and buying local produce; and we travelled more experientially by doing and learning things on the way.
We spent two weeks in each destination, staying in wonderful properties provided by our sponsor HomeAway Holiday-Rentals, and during our 14-day stay in an elegant apartment on Andrassy Avenue, we became smitten with Budapest. These are just some of the things we came to love about the city:
1. The dish formerly known as Hungarian Goulash
When we arrived in Budapest winter was well on the way. It was freezing and goulash and red wine were on my mind. Except, as I quickly discovered, what I wanted wasn’t really ‘Hungarian goulash’ at all, but the stew called pörkölt. Both are fantastic and we ate pörkölt and goulash everywhere, from Budapest’s Christmas Markets (see No.6) to upmarket restaurants. I even made my own version of it.
2. Hearty Hungarian Food
It’s not hard to eat well in Budapest. The restaurants in the city are very, very good. We had everything from creative takes on traditional dishes at Babel to well, traditional dishes at Klassz and Menza. The hearty winter dishes were wonderful –especially washed down with fabulous Hungarian wines.
3. Surprising Hungarian wines
While we knew about Bull’s Blood and Tokaji wines, they were about the extent of our exposure to Hungarian wines before our visit to Budapest. To counter this, we enlisted the help of Taste Hungary who held a wine tasting in our apartment that was a greatest hits of Hungarian wines. We never bought another awful supermarket wine after that…
4. Mouthwatering Central Market Hall
When we cooked at our apartment, we headed straight for the Central Market Hall – one of our favourite food markets in Europe – for our ingredients. While we knew the markets well (we’d been to Budapest before), we decided to do a market tour with a local food writer to make sure we hadn’t missed anything. We had. We’d forgotten that there was a wonderful Asian foodstuffs shop downstairs. We also procured lots of winter salami before we left for our next destination.
5. The Grandeur of Budapest
There’s no doubt about it. Budapest is one of the most stunning cities in Europe. Our apartment was in one of the most elegant buildings on posh Andrassy Avenue and within a couple of blocks of our ‘home’ we had the dramatic St Stephen’s Basilica, while a quick stroll down the road brought us to the romantic Danube River and its striking bridges, spectacular castle and majestic Parliament. In the opposite direction, just a couple of minutes away, was the handsome Hungarian State Opera House.
6. Christmas markets
After spending the winter in Europe and eating and drinking our way through a dozen or more Christmas markets, we have to hand it to you, Budapest, you have the best Christmas Markets in Europe. When we were able to stop ourselves from gorging on delicious pork knuckle and tasty sausages, washed down with spicy glühwein, it was a treat just to wander around browsing the stalls selling crafts and Christmas decorations.
7. House of Terror Museum
We were impressed with this cutting-edge museum when we first visited Budapest several years ago and it’s still a sobering museum that’s lost none of its impact on visitors. It’s a must for anyone interested in how museums can use multimedia to make its exhibits engrossing – each room is a mini-narrative that drives the story of the eras of Nazism and Communism in the country. Even on a second visit, it was as chilling as the weather.
8. Retro style
We have to admit that like many visitors to the city, we’re fascinated with Budapest’s Soviet-Communist era and while we can appreciate the difficulties of the times, we delight in the retro-cool style of the period following WWII. We were therefore delighted to do a ‘retro walking tour’ and discover plenty of cool things, such as Tisza sneakers. Lara’s biggest Budapest regret? Not buying a pair.
9. Local fashion
Which leads us to just how interesting we found the local fashion. Guys and gals on the streets – of all ages – carried themselves with style! We interviewed Dora Henger about Budapest’s idiosyncratic fashion sense and growing fashion scene to find out how locals get that individual look.
10. Budapest is affordable
We kept track of costs in every destination we visited this year and found Budapest to be one of the most affordable cities we visited of the entire trip. For a European destination in particular, it’s an absolute bargain. What’s not to love about that?
Post and photos by Terence Carter of Grantourismo